A guide to implementing remote monitoring

Monday, 03 July, 2023 | Supplied by: Omniflex (Australia) Pty Ltd

A guide to implementing remote monitoring

Remote monitoring technology makes data collection possible from anywhere globally. This includes measuring radiation levels in and around nuclear facilities, temperatures in ultra-cold cryogenic storage or any process data from oil, petrochemical or gas refineries. Here, Gary Bradshaw, Director of Omniflex, describes best practice when implementing remote monitoring.

Remote monitoring enables people and companies to collect data from locations where conventional methods would be very costly, inefficient or even unworkable. For example, researchers at the University of Oxford used an SMS/email 24/7 alert remote monitoring system to ensure COVID-19 pathogen sample storage remained safe and effective. The two freezer types used in the Peter Medawar building for Pathogenic Research operated at -80 and -180°C respectively, so manual temperature monitoring 24/7 was not feasible. Temperature fluctuations exceeding the allowable limits triggered a text/email, which was then sent to the relevant people, who could ensure that no samples were lost and the vital COVID-19 research remained on track.

The priority for remote monitoring system design is understanding the needs of the customer and their business. Typically, the fundamental questions in each discovery session will be the same: What sort of data do you wish to collect? How many data points do you wish to measure? What are the locations of these data points? Where do you want to monitor this data from?

Once these questions are answered, a discussion about the right network type can begin. Traditionally, hardwired cables would be installed between the data points. However, the costs and disruption associated with new cable installation are significant: digging and construction of infrastructure, cable containment, risk assessments and method statements, and avoiding pre-installed external utilities pipelines can all inhibit progress.

For this reason, using existing cable networks is a viable cost-benefit solution. This is why Omniflex developed CONET, a technology that allows businesses to reuse existing two cores in any grade of copper cabling to create a new industrial local area network (LAN). Any spare cores in multi-core bundles or even unused telephone wiring can be repurposed, potentially saving money.

Although this can be beneficial, LANs do have their limitations. For distances longer than 10 km, other approaches are necessary. There are multiple wireless data collection options, each best suited to different circumstances, including satellite, radio and cellular GSM. The choice usually comes down to geographical factors. Radio communication networks still need a degree of design involved to ensure that the radio signal has a clear path and enough power to reach the distances required.

It’s also important to consider the difference between licensed and unlicensed radio frequencies. Many facility managers will be deterred by exclusive transmission rights fees, opting instead for licence-free bands open to the public. While these come with more competition for bandwidth, managed wireless protocols can help make the best use of the effective radiated power available.

The next technology, GSM, offers global coverage, from any device, including your own smartphone or tablet, and is a cheap option to access your data securely from the cloud. Omniflex used GSM technology in a customer application in Victoria, Australia. Here, the government deployed a cathodic protection system to mitigate corrosion in a highway bridge. Close monitoring of the chloride-induced corrosion was made possible globally, meaning spending on site visits was greatly reduced and all its data reporting was collated to be accessed from a secure web browser.

Finally, there is satellite data transmission. Although satellite technology has been around for decades, it has now evolved, is being used more and could be seen as the future of remote monitoring. An astonishing 90% of the Earth’s surface doesn’t receive a mobile signal and within that space there are plenty of remote sites to be monitored. Deep desert solar panel farms and oil rigs in the middle of the sea are examples of where satellite signal communication feeds data back to a control centre from the most isolated parts of the planet.

Clearly, the diverse array of remote monitoring options will enable these technologies to shape the way industrial processes and logistics are conducted well into the future. Isolated or critically dangerous areas will be made usable, saving on man-hours and costs, and boosting efficiency for the businesses involved.

Image credit: iStock.com/metamorworks

Online: www.omniflex.com.au
Phone: 02 8090 2144
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